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OF THIS COUNTRY,
OCCASION ED BY THE
BILL NOW IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS,
FOR CONSOLIDATING AND AMENDING THE
Laws relating to Prisons ;
OX THE PRACTICE OF LOOKING TO THE TASK-MASTER OF A PRISON RATHER
DURING THEIR IMPRISONMENT.
BY GEORGE HOLFORD, ESQ. M. P.
“ I am far from thinking that prisons should be scenes of comfort-they should be places of terror to those whom the laws would terrify; of punishment to those whom they would punish ; but of mere, though secure, confinement for such as, op just grounds of suspicion, the Police find it necessary to confine for judicial trial.”
Sir George Paul's Address to the Gentlemen of the Grand
Jury for the County of Gloucester, in 1783.
Second Edition with Corrections and Alterations.
THE Bill now on the table of the House of Commons, for Consolidating and Amending the Laws relating to Gaols, Penitentiaries, and Houses of Correction, in this part of the United Kingdom, appearing to me to have been framed on a very imperfect view of the subject, I am induced to make some remarks upon these different Places of Confinement for Criminal Prisoners; and I have chosen to publish what occurs to me thereupon, in this form, rather than to reserve my observations, to be addressed to the House in a future stage of the Bill, because many of the questions connected with the regulation of Prisons, and the treatment of Prisoners, require to be weighed with more attention than can be bestowed on them in the course of debate; and because some of them are fitter for the consideration of County Magistrates than to be made matter of Legislative enactments.
The following pages have been written more hastily than I could have wished; but I was anxious to have them printed before the meeting of Parliament; and the Bill, though printed in September last, did not come into my hands till lately.
CHAP. I. - On the Authority by which the Gaols and Prisons for
the reception of Criminals in the Counties of England and Wales are regulated, and on the Legislative Provisions which it may
be expedient to make upon that subject. The attention of the Public was particularly called, by Mr. Howard, to the state of the Prisons in this country about half a century ago.
This benevolent man, having observed, while he was Sheriff of the County of Bedford, in 1773, that persons who had been committed to take their trials for offences imputed to them, although declared not guilty by a Jury, or presumed to be so by the law for want of prosecution, were nevertheless called upon to pay fees to the gaoler for their discharge ; and were not unfrequently taken back to prison in consequence of their inability to make such payments, proposed to the Magistrates of the county to allow the gaoler a salary in lieu of these fees. The Magistrates wanted a precedent for charging the county with the expense of the relief desired, and Mr. Howard went in search of one through the adjoining counties; but he found, that the injustice, for which he sought a remedy, prevailed in them also; and looking into their prisons he beheld, to use his own words, “ scenes of calamity, which he grew daily more and more anxious to alleviate,” and to the alleviation of which he appears from that time to have devoted himself with a degree of zeal, activity, and perseverance, worthy of the great cause which he had undertaken. VOL. XVIII. Pam. NO. XXXV.
Mr. Howard was examined before the House of Commons, and received its Thanks in 1774; and he had the further satisfaction, in the course of that year, to see an Act of Parliament' passed for the remedy of the evil which had originally attracted his notice, enabling the Justices of the Peace, at their quarter sessions to grant salaries out of the county-rate, in lieu of the fees alluded to above ; followed by another Act by which the Justices were empowered to make various orders for the perservation of cleanliness in the prisons within their respective counties, and to provide for the separation of such prisoners as might be sick, from the rest ; and were also authorised to appoint an experienced surgeon or apothecary, who was to attend each prison, and to make a report on the state of the prisoners' health at every quarter sessions; the expenses of all such orders and such salary being charged by the Act on the county-rate.
The Justices of the Peace do not appear to have possessed any power previous to the passing of these Acts, to interfere in the management 3 of the county gaols, otherwise than by making orders under the 19th Car. II. cap. 4, for furnishing employment and relief to poor and needy persons committed to them for trial, and by the appointment of a chaplain to officiate in them, under the 13th Geo. III. cap. 58; but they were soon further empowered by the 24th Geo. III. cap. 54, to grant such salaries and allowances as they should think fit, to gaolers, in lieu of the profits which those officers were in the habit of deriving from the sale of liquor to the prisoners; a practice which had been much complained of by Mr. Howard, as productive of drunkenness and disorder in the gaols, and which was positively prohibited in future by the 22d section of this Act.
To this Act of Parliament, together with the Act for preserving the health of prisoners, mentioned above, and the powers subsequently given by the 31st Geo. III. cap. 46, to the Justices of the Peace, to appoint two of their body visitors of the gaols, and to make rules and orders for their better regulation, with the concurrence of the Judges of assize, may be attributed the great improvement which has taken place of late years, in the state and condition of the gaols of this country. That such improvement has taken place in them must be evident to any person, who has read the accounts given by Mr. Howard, of the result of his first inquiries on this head, and in particular his statement of the offensive condition in which he frequently found the air in places in which prisoners were confined. Speaking upon this subject, in his first Book, he assures his readers, that « his clothes were in his first journeys so offensive, that in a post-chaise he could not bear the windows drawn up, and was therefore obliged to travel commonly on horseback;" and that “the leaves of his memorandum book were often so tainted, that he could not use it till after spreading it an hour or two before the fire ;” and “ that even his antidote, a vial of vinegar, has, after being used in a few prisons, become intolerably disagreeable;" ' and he adds, “ that he did not wonder that many gaolers made excuses, and did not go with him into the felons' wards.” In another part of the same publication he represents it as a common artifice practised by gaolers, when they wished to prevent a stranger from examining their prisons, to hint an apprehension that the gaol fever had made its appearance among the prisoners.
14 Geo. III. cap. 20, entitled “ An Act for the relief of Prisoners charged with felony or other crimes, who shall be acquitted or discharged by proclamation, respecting the payment of fees to Gaolers, and giving a recompense for such fees out of the county-rates,"
2 '14 Geo. III. cap. 59, entitled “ An Act for preserving the health of prisoners in gaol, and preventing the gaol distemper."
3 They might build or repair the gaol at the expense of the county, by 11, and 13. Wil. III. cap. 19.
In these days no such inconveniences as those here described, are experienced in visiting the prisons of this country, nor is a gaoler likely to attempt to keep out any persons who might be desirous of seeing the inside of his prison, by such a suggestion as that mentioned above; since, if he were to succeed in driving away those to whom the hint should be addressed, the supposed existence of the gaol fever, among the prisoners, would probably soon reach the ear of the visiting Magistrates, and would be likely to lead to a much more minute investigation of the prison, than that from which the gaoler was endeavouring to escape, as well as to a just reproof of that officer, for not having made known the circumstance, in the first instance, to the proper visitors.
The class of gaolers is indeed much changed for the better, since the time of Mr. Howard. The description given of them by Sir W. Blackstone, as “ a merciless race of men, and by being conversant in scenes of misery, steeled against any tender sensation,” however just it may have been at the time his book was written, is now by no means applicable to that class of persons : on the contrary, I believe that most of those who have been in the habit of visiting prisons of late years, will bear testimony to the humanity of their keepers, and will support the assertion, that
"Thank God! we cannot now say as was said by Mr. IIoward, that more prisoners are destroyed by the gaol fever than by executions, which however were pretty numerous in his days.